Album of the Week // 30 November — 4 December
Liraz, the highly touted Israeli-Persian singer, returns with a buoyant and border-busting new album. Shimmering electro-pop meets pulsing dance rhythms and retro Persian sonics. Includes clandestine collaborations with Iran-based musicians and composers.
Liraz has taken her shimmering electro-pop to the underground. She’s turned it into something dangerous and even more beautiful than before. For her second album, Zan (“Women” in Farsi), the Israeli- Persian singer collaborated online with composers and musicians from Iran. Everything had to be secretive to avoid the gaze of Tehran’s mullahs and secret police. The result is her private revolution, songs with a true message, music to make people dance and smile — and above all, think.
The songs on Zan are the fulfilment of a dream, taking Liraz deep into the soul of the country that fills her heart and populated the stories her parents told her as a child — but one she’s never seen. They were written for the women in her family and to connect with her own history, quite often the same thing. “I sing because of these women, to them, for them,” Liraz explains. “My grandmothers were engaged when they were 11 and 12 and married at 15. They both had many children, but they had so much passion for life. I grew up with so many crazy stories about these women. My mother broke down the walls around women. So did my aunt. I watched them since I was a child. They fought for their freedom, and I’m fighting for mine, telling the stories about them in my songs.”
Her family, Iranian Jews, moved to Tel Aviv in the 1970s. Yet although Liraz was raised in Israel, she’s always believed that “my culture is Iranian.” The real revelation came when she moved to the US for three years to work as an actress, appearing in several big-budget movies, including A Late Quartet and Fair Game. In Los Angeles she found a huge Iranian community. (Liraz is currently staring in the TV series Tehran, an espionage thriller about an Israeli Mossad agent infiltrating Iran — out now on AppleTV+.) “There are a million Iranians there, so many I started to call it Tehrangeles. Suddenly I felt I belonged somewhere besides Israel. I heard this music from before the revolution and I started to collect it. Some was by women who didn’t stop singing after the revolution, as they were supposed to do. They left Iran so they could continue and I heard the courage in their voices. That made me realise I didn’t want to act, I wanted to sing.”
And she did, making Naz (2018), where she wrote and sang in Farsi, the music at times exploring the sounds of pre-revolution Iranian pop music. And for the first time, Liraz felt her voice was beginning to blossom and fill the hole in her heart.“It’s the language of my parents,” she explains. “I felt it was the only way I could connect to my heritage and to my grandparents, and still keep pushing forward as a woman.” When the album was done, she knew she wanted to take things even deeper next time. To work with Iranian musicians and let her voice and her music resonate further. “At first the idea seemed like a fantasy,” Liraz says, “But I had a lot of luck. Some people in Iran had found ‘Naz’ and got in touch online. Musicians sent me videos; some wrote every day. I posted questions, asking about different players and instruments. Over a year and a half, the songs for Zan took shape. Some were scared, since helping like this was against the law and asked me not to use their names.”
One of those anonymous players, a female percussionist based in Tehran, features on the opening track ‘Zan Bezan’ (‘Women Sing’), alongside Liraz’s Israeli band. It’s an insistent, catchy piece of electro-pop with heavy musical nods to Iranian pop stars of the 1970s like Googoosh; the message of female empowerment, however, is absolutely contemporary. Another secret Iranian collaborator worked on the powerful earworm ‘Joon Joon’, where the dance beats erupt straight from a 1970s Tehran disco, while the big chorus implants itself in the brain and refuses to leave. “Joon is my nickname for my daughter, it means ‘my soul,’” Liraz says. “When we talked online, one of the Tehran musicians would see me with my daughter and asked who she was. That was how the song began.”
Zan is an album of contrasts, like ‘Shab Gerye’, the ballad that Liraz knew she needed to include “because the words and music fit so perfectly. It’s a love song about reality,” or the aching closer, ‘Lalai’. “That’s a lullaby,’ she explains. “My grandmother sang it, my mother sang it, and I sing it to my daughter. It’s been in our family for generations. I knew I had a mission to do it. It’s a song that says you need to fight for your own life, my girl.” There’s power in its tenderness — twin sentiments that sum up ‘Zan’. The album continues breaking the walls her mother and aunts began to dismantle. But it does much more: it burrows under borders. It connects countries and cultures. “All the songs were written in Tel Aviv and Tehran. I feel like those collaborators are my brothers. Here we live in a democracy, but we have a crazy government. In Iran their lives are so regimented, yet they can do what they want in their own homes.”
Zan, Liraz insists, is the second chapter of the story that began with Naz. But it’s also one that stands alone. This is underground music in the very truest sense, political pop with names withheld for safety. Clandestine collaborations that started in the shadows but burst out of the speakers in a mix of traditional Persian instruments, the instruments that touched Liraz as she grew up, alongside club beats and call-to-action melodies.“I don’t want it to be plastic,” she says. It’s not. The honesty, the passion, the commitment and hope shine through in every note and nuance. She’s opened her private revolution to everyone.
You can hear songs from this album all this week on Morning Mari*, 9:00–9:15 every weekday morning GMT on Worldwide FM.